Would you like caviar with your corned beef?
A new Pacific restaurant seeks to raise the ceiling on corned beef, good news for cheese and egg fans, and a salty snack joins regular rotation.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter. Written this week by Madeleine Chapman, with help from Anna Rawhiti-Connell and Alice Neville. It’s lovely to have you here!
Every food has a perceived ceiling. An agreed-upon limit to what can be achieved with any one ingredient. Some ceilings are high – a tomato can be eaten a thousand different ways, from the simplest of toasts to that fine-dining staple of tomato water. Others have been lifted in recent years – remember when brussels sprouts were considered universally bad because people kept boiling them? Now they’re everywhere. For meat, the ceiling lines up with freshness – a fresh chicken thigh has a lot more potential than, say, a rotisserie chicken. And the meat with arguably the lowest ceiling besides deli luncheon? Corned beef (canned).
I like corned beef (aka pisupo). I grew up eating it at home, cooked simply and served on rice, maybe with some mayonnaise on top if you were feeling fancy. Sometimes my mum would put leftovers in a sandwich for school and I hated the congealed bits of fat that would form as it cooled down. Much like luncheon or canned spaghetti, I’ve never seen corned beef on the menu of a sit-down restaurant.
It’s a symbol of gifting and generosity in fa’asamoa, and the cost and stress of giving or receiving a box of corned beef always outweighed what was ultimately a very basic ingredient that would be cooked in one of a few simple ways (fried, either alone or with vegetables and served with rice). Just last night while doing my weekly Pak’n’Save shop, I saw corned beef was on special – $6.99 a can, 120 limit. It’s an expensive product but one that will likely never diminish in popularity. But could salty corned beef ever be prepared in a way that matched its status?
There have been some relatively recent moves to raise the ceiling of corned beef. Central Auckland cafe Blue Rose serves a corned beef and palusami pie, a delicious and heavy pastry that’ll put you immediately to sleep. I’ve also experienced a few appetisers at functions that included corned beef on a cracker.
And now, at his new Pacific fusion restaurant Metita in the SkyCity precinct, Michael Meredith has sought to raise the ceiling as high as possible.
Enter: corned beef and caviar.
Corned beef bun with lardo and caviar (Photo: Supplied)
The corned beef bun was glazed with lardo – something I’d never heard of before but is “cured pork fat” – and topped with a generous dollop of caviar. Somehow it worked together. The bun was heavy, as any corned beef dish is, but the caviar’s seawater notes freshened it up without overpowering the beef taste. I ate two before we’d even sat down.
At Metita’s opening, Meredith acknowledged that he was doing something very different with Sāmoan cuisine staples (taro, coconut, raw fish, pineapple and, much to my delight, curry powder) but hoped that older Sāmoan diners would appreciate the innovation and the retention of those classic tastes. I was impressed by Meredith’s ability to keep the essence of traditional dishes, despite completely recreating the textures and presentation. When it comes to “Pacific fusion” cuisine, it’s often heavy on the fusion, with the Pacific elements relegated to garnishes, and Meredith’s take is certainly more fusion than Tala, the other Sāmoan fine-dining restaurant in Auckland. But as I dined, I was always tasting Sāmoa, even if didn’t look anything like what I ate at home.
Lu’au (also known as palusami), one of my favourite dishes, is incredibly basic: taro leaves, onion, coconut milk. Usually served with baked or boiled taro, it makes for a delightfully bland meal with a distinct coconut taste and green hue. To bring that to the fine-dining table, Meredith cooked a beef sirloin steak (to perfection, he does the best steaks in town IMO) and served it on a paste of blended lu’au. Keeping that distinct taste and hue while adding protein and the presentation of a high-end main. It was surprising and delicious.
Left: Duck breast, spiced and sour fala (pineapple), witlof. Right: Beef sirloin, palusami, w (Photos: Me, not a food influencer)
I also have to give a special shout-out to the inclusion of curry powder on a fine-dining menu. You’ll be hard pressed to find any other spice in a Sāmoan dish, so it was amazing to taste the all-in-one curry flavour within such refined dishes.
Corned beef is not a universal food. Many New Zealanders, let alone tourists here, have never tasted or even heard of it. They won’t know how it is typically eaten or presented. I love the idea that for some, dining at Metita will plant the seed that pisupo is a fine-dining staple, an ingredient with the highest of ceilings. / Mad Chapman
Finally, some good news: cheese and egg prices are falling. Last week, Stats NZ reported that the price for the beloved dairy product fell 9% in October, down 26% from its peak in January, reports the Herald. And at yesterday’s Global Dairy Trade (GDT) auction, cheddar prices fell by 9.7%. Consumers are already seeing lower prices than the eye-watering $20+ a kilo the likes of Mainland Tasty reached earlier in the year, and they should continue to drop, though the GDT dip likely won’t be reflected at the till until the new year. On the egg front, last week’s Stats NZ figures showed prices fell for the third month in a row and RNZ reports that egg producers are hopeful the egg shortage of early 2023 is now a distant memory.
Almost 20 years ago, two school students and a science experiment nearly brought down global fruit drink brand Ribena. On The Spinoff, Stewart Sowman-Lund shares the story of then 14-year-old Jenny Suo, now a TVNZ journalist, and her mate Anna Devathasan, whose science fair project uncovered the fact Ribena, despite claims on its packaging and ads, contained almost no vitamin C. The girls didn’t even win the science fair, but their work ultimately led to a court case that found Ribena’s owner was in breach of the Fair Trading Act. It was fined and ordered to run an ad campaign correcting the erroneous claims.
Why do all chefs cross their arms in photos? US website Eater investigates the go-to chef photo-op pose, and finds it’s either a self-protection reflex or a reflection of “the language of the professional kitchen: aggressive and military”, or perhaps both. I didn’t think this pose was as pervasive among Aotearoa’s gentler breed of chefs, but a Google image search of “New Zealand chef” certainly returned more than a few armed-crossed results. / Alice Neville
The weekly snack
Popcorners Popcorn Snacks in sea salt, cheddar cheese and sweet and salty, $3 (on special), all supermarkets: If you asked me to show you the snack that your husband randomly saw one day that is now an unconscious standard purchasing practice, I would show you these popcorn chips. I called them rice poppers for a week, oblivious to anything except that I loved them and couldn’t stop eating them. They are clearly labelled with their key ingredient, corn, but the sea salt ones vaguely remind me of rice crackers. Specifically, the first rice cracker you had and thought, OK, I could eat these instead of a whole bag of salt and vinegar chips all the time. I love popcorn but get irritated when it’s not crunchy. These are essentially crunchy, triangle-shaped popcorn. They come in three flavours. I recommend starting with sea salt if only to level up when you experience the cheddar flavour explosion. Sweet and salty taste like icing sugar-dusted popcorn, but it’s a flavour that melts away quite quickly. Good for a bedtime snack. 9/10 / Anna Rawhiti-Connell
Hei kōnā mai, Mad, Alice and Anna